Casa Grande High School's boys basketball team let a hard-earned lead all but slip away before getting the Big House in order to defeat Santa Rosa, 60-54, Thursday night in Casa's Coach Ed Iacopi Gymnasium.
The win was the second North Bay League victory in a row for the Gauchos on their home court after a stumbling four-loss road string to start league play. The Gauchos face another daunting road battle Tuesday when they travel to Santa Rosa to face Montgomery's powerhouse Vikings. Montgomery has won its first five NBL games and is 13-4 on the season.
The Gauchos, who have found their collective shooting eye in their last two encounters, are now 9-9 overall and 2-4 in league.
Santa Rosa is a better team than its 1-5 league record (8-9 overall) indicates, and gave the Gauchos just about everything they could handle Thursday night.
Casa Grande managed to gradually battle ahead of the visitors through the first three quarters, but almost let a 15-point advantage dissipate when the Panthers charged for a 14-2 run at the outset of the third period. But, with the game on the line, Drew Busse and Tyler Nadolski, quiet contributors most of the evening, made very loud contributions to seal the win.
Most of the game was a bruising paint battle with Casa's 6-foot, 5-inch junior Will Crain doing the heavy lifting for the Gauchos and senior center Dustin Rome carrying the load for the Panthers. Rome, at times was a one-man scoring machine for Santa Rosa, finishing with 23 points; this despite strong underneath work by Crain and Jon Christy for Casa.
Crain turned in an impressive double-double for the Gauchos, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He also found time to dish off three assists and block four shots. He highlighted his performance with a one-handed dunk in the third period.
As always, the Gauchos played with a fiery intensity on defense, but were too often hurt by Santa Rosa second and third shots in the paint.
"I can never fault our effort," said Casa coach James Forni. "
We always play with a lot of intensity, but we have to do a better job rebounding. We didn't block out all night."
The tone of the game was set early, with both teams working the ball inside. Casa Grande's first four baskets were all lay ups and put backs with one short jump shot by Crain. Santa Rosa played pretty much the same inside game, but edged out to a 14-10 lead when Daniel Cresta canned a 3-pointer just before the end of the first period.
The Gauchos picked up and varied its offensive approach in the second quarter, with seven different players providing points as they edged ahead, 33-30, at the intermission. Rome accounted for nine of Santa Rosa's 16 points in the second period.
After being frustratingly cold from the outside in the first half, the Gauchos begin to find the distance range in the third quarter with Jack Micco hitting twice from beyond the arc and Cetrick Yeanay adding another long-distance connection. Meanwhile, the Gaucho defense also increased the intensity, holding Santa Rosa to just two baskets and five points in the period. Better yet, Rome picked up his fourth foul and had to be protected on the Panther bench. By the end of the period Casa was on top, 50-35.